Henry Giroux: “All education is a struggle over what kind of future you want for young people"

Education is not just about
empowering people or practicing freedom. It's also, in some ways,
about killing the imagination and educating people
to adjust to conditions in which their own sense of agency
is basically limited. For instance, we often see pedagogies
that "teach to the test", we often see pedagogies
that are simply about accountability, objective standards, pedagogies that in no way
take into consideration the experience of students,
or speak to important social issues. They are pedagogies that,
in many ways, are designed to undercut the possibility
for students to be critical thinkers, critically conscious,
aware of their own cultural capital and its strengths,
and their place in the world. And I think it's rightly so to call them
"pedagogies of repression". The debate about education today,
with its emphasis on methods, represents a new kind
of pedagogical stupidity. It completely ignores
the most fundamental question of education,
"what is education for?", and the most fundamental struggle
in education: a struggle of our identities,
a struggle of our agency. Education, in the final analysis,
is about the production of agency. What kind of agency and narratives
are we going to produce that students can understand,
that enlarge their perspective on the world, on their relationship
to others and themselves? Methods? To begin with methods is to completely ignore, probably,
all the most fundamental questions about education: ideology, culture, power, authority…
How are these things constituted? What's the basis for knowledge?
On whose authority? Does it speak
to a particular kind of future? Because all education
is an introduction to the future. It's a struggle over the future
you want for young people, over the subjectivities
that will make that future possible, over notions of narrative that students can relate to
and understand, so they can see education
as fundamental to who they are. "Methods" doesn't do that.
Methods contain a kind of silence on the side of the worst forms
of repression, because they deny the very notion
that students are alive. They can be alive to themselves,
to particular forms of knowledge, particular social experiences
and particular values. The notion of neutrality,
and when it's raised in education, is the worst form of politics. In itself, it's a political issue,
a political question, because it's taking a value
around education in ways to hide
what education is really about. I've always viewed that position as the basis
for a kind of fascist politics, because it hides its code,
for not allowing people to understand the role
that education plays ideologically, the role it plays in producing
particular forms of knowledge, forms of power,
kinds of social values, notions of agency,
narratives about the world… It's impossible for education
to be neutral. There's no such thing. Those who argue
that education should be neutral are really arguing
for a version of education in which nobody is accountable,
in which the people who produce that form of education disappear,
because they're saying it's neutral. And so you can't identify
the ideological processes, politics, motive, power…
That's precisely what they want. I mean, look: power, at its worst, is invisible.
It makes itself invisible. And that the notion
that education is neutral is, to me, one way of people
who have dominant power making it invisible
and making propaganda of itself incapable of being seen. It seems to me that at the heart
of critical pedagogy is that… it's not a skill.
We're not talking about skills. We're talking
about critical consciousness. You know, conscientization. We're talking about creating
tools with which people can be not only critics,
but also cultural producers. What new technology offers,
particularly for young people, is the opportunity to operate outside
the traditional spheres of the media, particularly mainstream media, like they've never had
that opportunity before. At the same time, we also see
the way in which the new technologies have become enormously weaponized
to repress people: Google, Facebook… These are, increasingly,
technologies of surveillance. That's what they are. But there are enormous possibilities
for them to be used. We've seen them used
in progressive and radical ways. My theory about those technologies is that we have to judge them within the societies
that are using them according to very specific values. It's not that the technology alone
produces very specific relationships. They operate according to the values
that align with certain powers to put into play
how those things would be used. Selfies! Selfies are the mirror
or neoliberalism, right? But they don't have to be… Disabled people can project
modes of representation that dignify who they are.
It's a struggle. These technologies are part of a larger struggle
over cultural politics. In the beginning,
when these technologies emerged, there was a kind of romanticization
about them. "This is the new democracy!". They divorced those technologies
from questions of power, and the concentration of power,
and how it can absorb anything in a capitalist society,
particularly in a neoliberal society. I think that has to be challenged. With what we're seeing now,
you'd have to be pretty stupid to believe that Google is,
somehow, on the side of democracy, or to believe that Microsoft
really cares about social justice, or to believe that, in some way,
Twitter is a new form of literacy. Look, capitalism and democracy
are not the same thing. Let's begin there. You can't talk about democracy
if you're talking about capitalism. Capitalism is the antithesis
of democracy. Capitalism doesn't believe
in shared justice, shared power, shared responsibilities.
It believes in accumulated profits. That's very different, right? It seems to me that
a debate over democracy, particularly in terms of linking
three things, political rights, personal liberties
and economic rights… There's no democracy
that won't talk about economic rights. It doesn't exist. You can have a range of personal
and political individual freedoms, I'm delighted
with freedom of the press, and with the ability to go
and choose any religion I want, but not with the notion that anybody can either sleep at the Ritz
or sleep under a bridge. Sorry, doesn't work that way. No democracy is worthy of the name. I don't think any of them
are finally finished or completed. What democracy is,
and what I like about it, is the fact
that it represents an ideal in which no society is ever enough. The concept, at its best,
means it's unfinished. It's never fully completed. You always have to work at it.
It's always a site of struggle. Gramsci uses the term "interregnum". He says it's a period
when the old order is dying and new societies are emerging, and in the middle is that moment
of restlessness, that moment of uncertainty.
That moment, today, is increasingly dominated
by a fascist politics. It's dominated by right-wing groups,
hate groups, by people who hate immigrants,
who hate refugees, it's dominated by neo-Nazis,
by white nationalists, and we need to be aware
that the language of democracy has been undermined
by neoliberalism, by the hedge fund apparatus,
by the capitalists, and we haven't been able to recover. Now we talk
about "illiberal democracy". In Hungary, in Poland…
We say things like: "Democracy means you have security,
but you don't have freedom". You have to give up freedom
for security. Can you imagine? That's the degree
to which democracy has failed. You can't have a democracy
without informed citizens. That's why education has to be
at the centre of any discourse about democracy,
and it isn't. That's where the left has failed. It has failed to run education.
They failed because they believe that the most important structures
of domination are entirely economic, and not only those elements
that trade in beliefs, in persuasion, in pedagogy,
in changing consciousness, and motive identification. Uncertainties can be
a time of great anxiety, and a time of great possibility, a time to rethink
the language of politics, to rethink the language of struggle,
to rethink the language of solidarity. Power is not always about domination.
Not exclusively. It's also about resistance.
Young people have a lot of power. They can shut societies down.
They can block streets, engage in direct action,
educate their parents. They're a potent political force.
What they need to do is to recognise themselves as such,
and I think they need to act, because I think
that a discourse of anxiety should give way
to a discourse of critique, and a discourse of critique
should give way to a discourse of possibility,
and a discourse of possibility means that you can imagine a future
very different from the present.

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